Messianic Education Trust
(Ex 25:1 - 27:19)

Shemot/Exodus 26:9   And you shall join five panels as a piece and six panels as a piece and double the sixth panel over against the face of the Tent.

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With this parasha, the Torah moves on to the detailed instructions for the construction of the Tabernacle, the Mishkan, the place of resting or abiding. The panels in our text are panels of cloth made of goat's hair, of which eleven were to be made, each thirty cubits long and four cubits wide (v. 8). They were placed over the innermost layer of curtains and coverings that were made of "fine twisted linen, of blue, purple, and crimson yarns, with a design of cherubim worked into them" (Shemot 26:1, NJPS). They are, by comparison, very drab and mundane, placed perhaps to protect the inner layer from the elements. The goat hair cloths will in turn be covered first by "a covering of tanned ram skins" (v. 14, NJPS) and finally "an outer covering of fine leather" (ibid., CJB). Like the layout of the Tabernacle and the courtyard, with each layer comes a diminution of splendour and glory to mark the decrease in holiness coming away from the Holy of Holies.

Despite what seems to be an obsessive level of detail, the counting and arrangement of the hooks, clasps and pillars, no-one is quite sure today exactly how the assembly was put together. The Hebrew text is missing enough location and orientation information that the Levites who erected the Tabernacle under the supervision of the priests knew exactly what they were doing and - three thousand years later - our best guesses are just that, best guesses and artists' impressions. We can learn important themes and principles from the instructions, but could not be certain of accurately making and assembling a Tabernacle now. Perhaps there is a lesson there for today!

The famous mediaeval Jewish commentator Who Is ...

Rashi: Rabbi Shlomo Yitzchaki (1040-1105 CE), French rabbi who wrote commentaries on the Torah, the Prophets and the Talmud, lived in Troyes where he founded a yeshiva in 1067; focuses on the plain meaning (p'shat) of the text, although sometimes quite cryptic in his brevity
Rashi,tells us that "half of the width of [the additional upper panel] was hung and folded over the screen at the east [side of the "Mishkan] - at the entrance - like a modest bridge who is covered with a veil over her face", while the Who Is ...

The Rashbam: Rabbi Samuel ben Asher (1085-1174 CE), a grandson of Rashi; lived in Northern France; worked from the plain meaning of the Hebrew text even when this contradicted established rabbinic interpretaton
Rashbam adds the comment that "half of it [the sixth panel] hangs down over the entrance to the tent, and half at the cloth at the back." Who Is ...

Abraham Ibn Ezra: (1089-1167 CE), born in Tudela, Spain; died in the South of France after wandering all around the shores of the Mediterranean and England; a philosopher, astronomer, doctor, poet and linguist; wrote a Hebrew grammar and a commentary on the Bible
Ibn Ezra agrees, suggesting that the builders are to "let half of the extra cloth hang down in front, leaving the extra half-cloth to overlap the back."

Ovadia Who Is ...

Sforno: Rabbi Ovadiah Sforno (1470-1550 CE), Italian rabbi, philosopher and physician; born in Cesena, he went to Rome to study medicine; left in 1525 and after some years of travel, settled in Bologna where he founded a yeshiva which he conducted until his death
Sforno, however, starts us off on an important principle. Commenting on the word , which is used twice in our text - once for the set of five joined curtains and once for the set of six - and can be translated as 'separately' or 'alone', he observes that "even with this upper tent cloth, of goat's hair, the distinction between the Holy of Holies and the rest of the Tabernacle was to be maintained." Umberto Cassuto seems to make an opposite claim, saying that "the two sets of the tent shall be joined together, like the two sets of the tabernacle [the Holy of Holies and the Holy Place]".1Richard Elliott Friedman makes the theological step is his writing: "Once they sew all the curtains together and connect all the loops and clasps, the Tabernacle will be one whole piece. The wording 'the Tabernacle will be one' [v. 6]' fits the the centrality of the Tabernacle to Israel's monotheism. One G-d, one Tabernacle, one altar, only one place of worship." While, as the Sforno correctly points out, the gradations of holiness are to be maintained, the very curtains that make those distinctions also unite the whole of the Tabernacle structure into one piece. The Tabernacle has separate constituent parts, each with its own furniture and rules for access, yet is clearly a single unit, brought together and united by a humble layer of goat hair fabric, then layered by ram skins and fine leather.

In this we can hear a strong echo of Rav Sha'ul's important credal statement that "There is one body and one Spirit -- just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call -- one L-rd, one faith, one baptism, one G-d and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all" (Ephesians 4:4-6, ESV). As believers in Messiah, both Jew and Gentile, we have all been brought together into a unity. G-d designed it so that looked at from the outside, there is only one people of G-d. Only when you get close up and examine the structure closely should you be able to see that there are in fact two distinct parts: the Jewish people of G-d and the Gentile people of G-d. They should be intertwined, inter-working, sharing at every level and yet distinct in identity and expression so that the boundary between them is preserved and not blurred. This is the miracle of the "One New Man" (2:15), created one from the two in Yeshua to be one body, "being built together into a dwelling place for G-d by the Spirit" (2:22, ESV).

Looking at the detailed instructions for the construction of the Tabernacle, Walter Brueggemann reminds us that "worship, the hosting of the holy, requires order, discipline, planning and forethought. Attention to the aesthetic dimension of the Tabernacle (design, symmetry, colour, luxurious materials) invites reflection of worship as a practice of the 'beauty of holiness.'"2 This provides a needed response to those who ask, "What's all the fuss about considering that this is already the second layer and will in turn be covered by a covering for the tent of tanned ram skins and an outer covering of fine leather?" If it can't be seen from the inside or the outside, why bother? Brueggemann enables us to step beyond the true but rather uncritical response that G-d sees it and wants it that way. Yes, He does, but when we reduce the Scriptures to that level we miss the deeper things of G-d that He wants to teach us. Our worship, both as individuals and as congregations needs to be a totally Spirit-guided event that is nevertheless planned and ordered in a way that deliberately chooses to invest ourselves in what we are doing rather than a mindless or emotional repetition of familiar phrases and songs without any real engagement. Let what G-d said through the prophet, "this people draw near with their mouth and honour Me with their lips, while their hearts are far from Me" (Isaiah 29:13, ESV) not be said of us!

Finally, we come to some of Yeshua's words to the scribes and Pharisees of His day: "Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs, which outwardly appear beautiful, but within are full of dead people's bones and all uncleanness. So you also outwardly appear righteous to others, but within you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness" (Matthew 23:27-28, ESV). The first thing we must do when reading this and the similar surrounding passages, is to remember that this is internal debate; this is one Jew who is concerned about righteousness talking to other Jews who are also concerned about righteousness. It is not someone outside throwing stones from a distance at someone they don't like and don't care about. The second thing we must also do is recognise - in the same way as the rabbinic debate about the seven kinds of Pharisee - that this language is heavily hyperbolic. Yeshua is not saying that either the scribes or the Pharisees were whitewashed tombs; He uses the word 'like' to show that He is making a symbolic comparison. Similarly, He is not saying that every scribe or Pharisee is a rank hypocrite and law-breaker. On the contrary, we can tell from comparing Yeshua's teaching with what we know of the Pharisees and other groups within Second Temple Judaism that although they were certainly not the same, they did share some significant areas of common concern. The vocabulary Yeshua uses is certainly no stranger to the rhetorical language deployed by other contemporary teachers.

That said, we need to look carefully at what Yeshua is saying to understand why He us using that high level of rhetoric. We can then recognise that Yeshua is rebuking the Pharisees for a tendency to operate a double standard: external and internal. Comparing this to the picture of the Tabernacle - where the holiest place is inside and the plain coverings are on the outside - the Pharisees and, I suspect, us too on occasion, have inverted the model and sometimes conceal less than holy things inside the normal covering, hoping that no-one will notice. But G-d does notice and is not confused by the clean-looking outside that we present to the world. Lips and heart being out of synchronisation, so that our Tabernacle essentially comes apart and is no longer one - whether as individuals or as a congregation - are clearly visible to G-d and, strangely as it may seem, to the enemy. G-d grieves and reaches out to us by the Holy Spirit, convicting us of sin and broken relationship, while the enemy lashes us with guilt and does his best to make the situation worse. Our worship becomes haphazard and random as our level of investment in our relationship with G-d falters.

What is needed at this point is to take deliberate action. We need to recognise and confess that all is not right with us; we need to be prepared to name and honestly confess our sin because "If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness" (1 John 1:9, ESV). We need to renounce the lies that the enemy feeds us - either that G-d doesn't care about us anyway, or that G-d can't see what is going on - and focus on re-investing ourselves in the deliberate worship of G-d. We need to pick up the goat hair panels, fasten them together again - five and six - and double the panel over the entrance to the Holy Place so that we are are once more united in Yeshua and protecting His holiness in us.

1. - Umberto Cassuto, A Commentary on the Book of Exodus, (Magnes Press, Jerusalem, 1983), page 350.

2. - Walter Brueggemann, "Exodus," in The New Interpreter's Bible Commentary Vol I, edited by Leander E. Keck, (Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 2015), page 451.

Further Study: Ezekiel 33:31-33; Luke 11:37-41; Romans 3:25-26 (Yeshua is our covering!)

Application: Have you allowed your panels to slip, taking your eye off being deliberate about worship and allowing less that holy things into your core? If so, don't waste time or prevaricate - it won't get better by itself! Confess whatever sin is involved, receive G-d's forgiveness and dedicate yourself again to worship.

Comment - 06Mar20 11:50 Brian and Anne Nelson: What incredible assurance is ours when we confess wrongdoing and receive once again His forgivess and cleasing through the precious, costly Blood of The Lamb. Thank You, Messiah Jesus for dying for me. Hallelujah !

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© Jonathan Allen, 2020

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